The Cover Story: Pirates: They yarrr back
The newest crop of high-seas scallywags has an advantage or two over their pirate predecessors. Theyre tech-savvy, media-friendly and increasingly brazen.
The Somali bandits are equipped with GPS, satellite phones and spinmiesters to share their story with the world.
Up to this point, theres never been interest in pirates in the United States except for Hollywood fantasy, said John Burnett, a former merchant seaman who was attacked by the outlaws in 1992 in the South China Sea.
Pirate hijackings have tripled since early 2007. There have been 96 attacks in Somali waters this year, with 40 ships hijacked. Fifteen ships and about 300 crew remain docked off the coast as pirates negotiate ransoms.
Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria and other poverty-stricken coastal nations have known their fair share of piracy, but the recent spate near Somalia indicates the northeast African country is an ideal breeding ground, experts said.
These are hot-tempered people who have been living in anarchy since 1991, when the Somali government collapsed, said Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas. And everyone over the age of 12 has a Kalashnikov rifle.While the Kenyan government reports that pirates this year have netted about $150 million, conservative estimates put the ransom profits at closer to $30 million.
Among the most precious seized cargo is $100 million in crude oil aboard the Sirius Star, a U.S.-bound Saudi tanker captured on Nov. 15. The pirates, who initially demanded $25 million in ransom, moved the vessel farther out to sea after Islamic militants vowed to fight them. The captive crew are fine and were permitted to contact their families, a pirate called Daybad told The Associated Press.
Somalis taking up the pillage-and-plunder lifestyle include fishermen who lost their livelihood to European businesses, coast guard members trained by Western security firms and ordinary young men or farmers who were attracted to piracy by the great wealth on offer, said Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at Chatham House, a British think tank.
The pirates effectiveness has likely caught the eye of Islamist extremists, experts said.
There have long been fears that al-Qaida has seen Somalia as a prime recruiting ground, Middleton said. The growth of al-Shabaab [a Muslim insurgency group in Somalia] over the last year has reignited fears that young Somalis may become radicalized.
The problem is escalating, but naval forces cannot possibly patrol all the seas. OK, lets say you capture a bunch of pirates. What are you going to do with them? Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell asked ABC News.
Its only going to get worse, Burnett said. There only solution is a functional and effective government in Somalia.
Infamous scallywags: Real and fictional
By Amanda Mangus
JOHN CALICO JACK RACKHAM: John Rackham, known as Calico Jack, is infamous for his flag, now known as the pop culture symbol for piracy.
MARY READ: A notorious female pirate from Calico Jacks crew, Mary (known as Mark) Read dressed as a man in battle and as a woman at other times.
BLACKBEARD EDWARD TEACH: Legend has it that Blackbeard wove lit matches into his beard to intimidate his enemies. Hes the stereotypical seafaring pirate.
SISTER PING: She hijacked ships on the South China Sea from the 1970s to 1990s and smuggled thousands of Chinese immigrants to the West.
CAPTAIN HOOK: The villain in J. M. Barries novel and play Peter Pan has a hook as a hand. Peter Pan cut it off and fed it to a crocodile, who liked the taste and follows Hook around, hoping for another bite.
CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW: Pepe Le Pew and Keith Richards inspired Johnny Depps portrayal of this anti-hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
LONG JOHN SILVER: Known for Treasure Island and the seafood-serving fast-food chain, Long John set the pirate precedent of having a peg-leg and a talking parrot.
1220-1186 B.C: The Sea Peoples, a group of maritime nomads, terrorize the eastern Mediterranean, ushering in a Dark Age.
75 B.C.: No less a force than Julius Caesar is held for ransom by pirates on the Aegean Sea.
Fifth century: St. Patrick, at the tender age of 16, is enslaved by pirates.
The age of the Vikings (the 700s-early 1000s): The Norse warriors take the seas and spread terror from northern Europe to Italy.
Swashbuckling in the Caribbean (mid-1500s- early 1700s): Yes, those pirates of the Caribbean were real well before Johnny Depp made Captain Jack Sparrow infamous. Much of our understanding of this period, however, has more to do with fanciful Hollywood plots than reality.
1800-1850: The U.S., British and European navies virtually wipe out organized piracy in the Caribbean, the Far East and China. But as long as the high seas are used for commerce, there will be pirates.
Blend in using this pirate lingo tutorial:
Shiver me timbers: An expression of shock or disbelief.
Hornswaggle: To cheat or defraud, often of money.
Black spot: A death threat among pirates.
All hands hoay: A command for all to convene on the ships deck, usually for action.
Davy Jones locker: The imaginary place at the ocean bottom that holds dead pirates.